God’s Forever Family tells the story of the rise, development and influence of the Jesus People (or Freaks, as they were called at the time). The actual movement was short lived, being birthed directly after the 1967 “Summer of Love” in Haight-Ashbury. As the hippies flocked to San Francisco to smoke weed, take LSD, engage in immorality and live on the streets, the Christian community began to seek ways to reach those young people for Christ. At first a few who were saved out of that culture began to form ministries and they were soon joined by some churches that caught the vision. As many hippies came to Christ the efforts to reach them snowballed and the methods became more creative. It was determined early on that hippies would most effectively respond if the conservatism methodology of the church was abandoned and music, messages and programming that mirrored the hippy lifestyle were adopted. Hence rock music was introduced to the worship times of the church. Christian communes and coffeehouses popped up everywhere. Teaching and sermons were mostly simple, superficial and Pentecostal. As a result, when the Jesus People movement faded from the scene a mere ten years or so later, the evangelical church had been radically changed. The seeker sensitive church was born out of the ashes of the 1967-1975, picking up where the efforts to reach Jesus Freaks had begun. Sermons in such churches were short on Scripture and long on experience. Contemporary Christian Music was born and became a staple in most congregations. Pentecostalism was spread through the charismatic movement as the Jesus People became part of the church and as Pentecostal music flooded the scene. A number of cults, such as The Children of God, The Church, and The Way International preyed on these poorly taught converts.
The Jesus People have shaped modern evangelism in ways that most people do not realize. If a conservative Christian went into a coma in 1966 and woke up in 1976 the change they would have observed in the evangelical church would have made Rip Van Wrinkle’s shock after his 20-year sleep seem mild. Modern Christianity cannot even begin to comprehend evangelicalism today without a thorough understanding of the Jesus People movement. Today, for the first time in church history Christians have disregarded prohibitions against popular culture and seek to see how closely they can cozy up to the world around them. The Seeker movement, CCM and much of the spread of Pentecostalism, all owe their existence to the Jesus People. God’s Forever Family provides that understanding. This is recent church history at its best.
God’s Forever Family, The Jesus People Movement in America, by Larry Eskridge (New York: Oxford, 2013), 386 pp. + XII, hard, $19.75
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel